Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Little Bit of Herstory: the Click Moment

Something I rarely discuss -- or even really think about -- is that I come from a family of musicians, singers, dancers, and music lovers. Music and dancing were a part of my childhood, but not in a Mary Poppins sort of way, not in a family-time, all-smiles and love, homeschooling kind of way. It was more like we soundtracked everything, even the bad times. Music was an escape, something we did even when my mother and my grandparents were fighting, unhappy, or dealing with financial problems.

And so it is unsurprising that even my 'click moment' was musical. A second wave feminist term, the 'click moment' refers to the awakening of a woman's consciousness, to that moment when it all 'clicks' into place, and you realize that feminism is necessary, and that you need to advocate for it in some way or another.

Example: Elizabeth Cady Stanton has a dramatic click moment story, according to historian Vivian Gornick, Cady Stanton and her husband traveled from New York to London to participate in the World's Anti Slavery Convention in 1840. The Stantons were respected abolitionists, and Cady Stanton was a vocal critic of slavery. But she -- and the well-known Lucretia Mott -- were refused entrance to the convention for being women. Gornick writes that at that moment, Cady Stanton realized that the rest of the world, outside her doting father and loving husband, saw her as "just a woman".

A little less than 160 years after this, I had my moment. In the spring of 1998, I was 14 years old, and fairly obnoxious about my taste in music. I knew that I was different from the other wimpy, prissy girls around me because I listened to classic rock, 'alternative', and bands like The Clash and The Ramones. Underneath the obnoxiousness was a genuine love of music, of playing guitar and singing, and of how listening to and talking about music brought me closer to my parents and my friends.

That year I had made friends with a girl who listened to 'alternative' music, but who also listened to a lot of bands that I had never heard of. (Turns out, I was nowhere near as cool and cutting edge as I'd thought I was when I was 14.) One of this girl's favorite albums happened to be Dig Me Out by Sleater-Kinney.

I went out and bought the album at my local Border's, and I'll be honest: I bought it because I wanted that girl to like me. But as soon as I plucked the cd from the rack in the bookstore, it stopped being about her, and it became something else entirely. I remember looking at the front of the cd, my eye drawn to the black and white of the guitar and the bright red of a girl's hair. I turned the cd over, glanced at the photo of the three girls in the band on the back. I turned it over again, held it in both hands, and felt this funny feeling in my fingers. It traveled up my arms and spread to my chest, my face, and my stomach. The hairs on my arms stood up, and I ran to the register to go buy that feeling.

I put the record on as soon as I got home. The opening chords of the title track, "Dig Me Out", brought back that feeling, that apprehensive excitement I'd gotten at the store. Corin Tucker's keening vocals and Janet Weiss's low, aggressive drumming came in a few seconds later, and I thought to myself: why doesn't all music sound like this? Sleater-Kinney made every girl I'd ever listened to, Fiona Apple, Gwen Stefani, Shirley Manson, etc, sound wishy-washy and boring, and made almost every classic rock band sound archaic.

And that was when it all clicked: the arguments with my father's super traditional Italian family, the machista ideas of my mother's Puerto Rican relatives, the way my mom and I had rejected the Catholic church, my mom and grandmother's struggle to support us, and my constant resentment of how much better boys were treated at school...somehow, all of it made sense. It all fit together. And nothing made more sense than how upset I was, how annoyed I was that I hadn't heard music like this before, and how excited I was to have finally found it.

It would be years before I really understood feminism, or even the many layers of meaning located within Sleater-Kinney's songs. It would be years before I really proclaimed my advocacy of feminism, and committed myself to supporting women in music. But it started with that one click moment in my bedroom. Click moments are inherently bittersweet, and they are paradoxical: you have a painful realization of how powerless you are in society, but the knowledge then somehow empowers you. My consciousness was brought to life by "Dig Me Out", and I can't think of a more appropriate band or song for that rite of passage.

this post is dedicated to every woman and girl who has ever inspired anyone, and to every woman and girl who someday will; Rock and the Single Girl has faith in you.

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